Philosophy 318: Professional Ethics
Theodore Gracyk

Outline of  Rawls


Justice = fairness in the regulation of all social interactions

 But what's fairness? and unfairness?

 Let's start with a consideration of some sources of unfairness.

People are differently advantaged in society by their natural assets and their social backgrounds & attendant advantages. Therefore, chance and contingency stake the deck in favor of some individuals but against others. And that is not fair. {Example: someone with high intelligence has advantages over those with low intelligence in gaining access to the wages and status of modern professional life. But people with social privilege have advantages over people with higher natural intelligence.}

The following idea encourages unfairness and injustice: that the advantages to one sector/group can compensate for the disadvantages to the other sectors/groups.

If the people who make the rules (e.g., designate who has which rights) also know which natural & social assets they possess, that others don't, they are likely to favor rules that favor their assets and situations.

Therefore, in order to have justice, our social rules must be chosen from behind a veil of ignorance.

In other words, what rules would we all endorse if we didn't know which natural assets we'd have, nor what our initial social position would look like, nor how the society is currently structured. {Example: since gender is often used to discriminate, what rules would we adopt if we didn't know our own gender and didn't know which advantages go to which genders in our own society?}

THESIS: Two rules would stand out as ones to endorse:

11. Equality in assignment of most basic rights and duties.

More formally: Each person is to have an equal right to the most extensive basic liberty compatible with the same for all others.

Some obvious candidates: freedom of speech and assembly, the right to vote, the right to own property, freedom from arbitrary loss of liberty, the rule of law.

2. All social & economic differences are just/fair only if they result in compensating benefits for everyone (and not just some), starting with the most disadvantaged members of society.

More formally: where there are social inequalities, they must be regulated so that (a) a reasonable person would see how everyone is advantaged and (b) the differences attach to positions {e.g. jobs, social roles} and offices open to all.

{Example: you can't pay professionals more than fast food workers unless the latter have, in all ways, equal access to professional life.}

The second principle can never be used to make exceptions to the first. Economic gain cannot be used to justify the loss of basic rights.



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          &nb  Last updated June 8, 2015